How Does an Associate Degree in Nursing Differ From a Bachelor's Degree?

NursingNovember 04, 2013

Prospective nursing students often ask about the differences between an associate degree in nursing and a bachelor's degree in nursing, as well as the advantages of each. Aside from the training time involved (associate degree programs can be completed in two years and bachelor programs in four years), associate degree nurses often work alongside their four year degree colleagues with no noticeable differences. But there are a few considerations to keep in mind when deciding whether you want an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).


Many potential nursing students prefer to get the two year ADN and enter the workforce more quickly rather than completing a full BSN program. While your costs should be much lower in a two year program with reduced time in school, you must also keep in mind that most associate degree programs operate at the community college level, which can also create huge cost savings per credit hour.

Somewhere down the road, if you decide to get an advanced degree in nursing or become a nurse practitioner, you must earn your BSN prior to pursuing a master's degree.


After graduation, nurses from associate and bachelor's degree programs may have the potential to earn the same salaries for the same jobs as they begin their respective nursing careers. You may never see a difference in salaries for the same job based on degree, but as your experience in nursing grows, you may start seeing opportunities in management roles where your ADN hinders you from some of the better paying positions.

Management Roles and Teaching

You will often find that job listings in areas such as administration, case management or public health nursing often emphasize a strong preference for BSNs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that a BSN is often also required for research, consulting and teaching positions.

International Nursing

This is the area in which associate degree nurses encounter the greatest obstacles versus their colleagues with BSN degrees. Unfortunately, most countries do not offer a two year training program for registered nurses, and they require a minimum of three to four years of training to even be considered for a registered nursing license, regardless of your experience.

The Nursing Council of New Zealand used to recognize ADNs from the United States, but as of 2013, they now require at least a three year program or bachelor's degree. Australia's policy states that an ADN may receive a license with experience after a review of qualifications, but for the most part, you will not be able to practice overseas at a level comparable to a U.S. registered nurse if you want to migrate to another country.

Each prospective nursing student must choose a program best suited to their needs now and in the future, or at least what they think they will want to pursue in the future. If plans change and you find that you need further training later in your career, you should remember that you'll find many flexible options to balance work, family and personal schedules if you do go back to school.


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